Just how similar are human and primate (read monkeys and apes) brains? Well, if you were to base your conclusions on comparisons with certain unnamed politicians, actors or athletes, perhaps quite a bit. However, for most of humanity there are significant differences.

Research in many areas depends on assumptions that similar areas in human and primate brains perform similar functions. In other words, if you move your right arm and a monkey does the same, certain neurons in the motor area of the brain fire. These neurons were assumed to be in similar locations.

However, a group of really smart researchers decided to test this assumption. They took a group of humans and a group of monkeys and had them watch 30 minutes of the Sergio Leone film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. If I had been one of those researchers, I would have had them watch either Groundhog Day or any Three Stooges film.  At any rate, the scientists hooked up audience members to an MRI.  Just imagine if you will, trying to watch a flick while attached to an MRI!  Despite the MRI the researchers were able to gather some interesting information.

It turns out that the humans preferred Clint Eastwood (the good) whereas monkeys gravitated toward the horses. No, just kidding! The findings demonstrated that there were in fact significant differences. For example, the monkey’s middle temporal area ( on the side of the brain) mapped out to two other areas in humans. In other words, the same visual stimulus-ie the film activated different areas in different species.

What this all means is that monkeys and humans have anatomically similar brains but respond in different areas of the brain to the same thing. The next step might be to compare reactions to a foreign policy speech by Sarah Palin or perhaps to a reality show segment. Who knows?  The monkey’s brains might have some sort of protective mechanism to ward off unwanted stimuli.